Fire department without a dive team needed to call for help during water rescue

When two children fell through the ice on a lake in Sparta on Sunday, rescue crews sprang into action. But when they had to try to find one of the children in open water, authorities had to call in a dive team since they don’t have their own.

The Sparta Area Fire District covers an area of more than a 300 square miles. When it has to respond to a water rescue, which rarely happens, it doesn’t always have the necessary equipment and needs to call for help.

Multiple agencies were paged for help when the call came in on Sunday around 3:10 p.m.

“Monroe County is paging fire rescue and police to the Perch Lake Dam,” said one official over the Monroe County dispatch system.

First responders immediately went out to help.

“Officers actually crawled out on the ice and were able to get a rope and throw it to the person holding onto the ice,” said Chief David Kuderer, of the Sparta Police Department.

The officers didn’t have the right equipment or cold-water gear to immediately perform a water rescue.

“Two of the officers that were out on the ice and in the water there developed hypothermia and they had to go get checked out at the hospital,” Kuderer said.

The Sparta Area Fire District does train for water rescues and has some wetsuits.

“It keeps the firemen warm in the winter months with the cold water, and it also actually keeps them fairly cool in the summer months with warm-water rescues,” said Chief Mike Arnold, of the Sparta Area Fire District.

And a few former firefighters used to be on the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department dive team, but that disbanded in 2011.

“Since then, we rely on our nearby neighbor, and of course, that would be the Fort McCoy Fire Department. They have certified divers,” Arnold said.

“Fort McCoy Fire to Monroe County, squad three engine two to command two en route to your location,” said one official over the dispatch system.

The dive team was able to respond quickly to the scene and rescued the other child, who later died. Still, the fire chief says crews worked quickly and did the best they could with the resources they had.

“To go back to that day, I would have done nothing different as the incident commander,” Arnold said.

He said many of the first responders are struggling with the child’s death. The department plans to hold a debriefing with the agencies that responded to the incident on Wednesday night.

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